A Hierarchy Of Comfort: The Asymmetries Of Richard English

Mike Burke assesses the perspective brought to nationalism by Richard English, an author and academic. Mike Burke has lectured in Politics and Public Administration in Canada for over 30 years.

Richard English has recently written two reviews of Declan Kearney’s edited collection Uncomfortable Conversations: one published in the Irish Times on 11 July and one in the August issue of An Phoblacht.[1]

Richard English is a Professor of Politics at the University of St. Andrews, formerly of Queen’s University, Belfast, and has written numerous scholarly articles and books on Irish politics and the northern conflict. Uncomfortable Conversations is part of Sinn Féin’s reconciliation project first announced by the Party’s National Chairperson, Declan Kearney, in March 2012.

English’s contribution to this debate certainly makes me feel uncomfortable. But, I suppose, that’s part of his purpose: to offer comfort to unionists and discomfort to nationalists and republicans.

Uncomfortable Conversations

In the March 2012 issue of An Phoblacht, Kearney launched a new phase of the peace process: an outreach initiative designed to engage unionists (and others) in a journey of reconciliation. Kearney argued that “Reconciliation means being willing to have uncomfortable conversations.” The purpose of these conversations is to increase understanding and mutual respect, heal differences and create trust. Another purpose, according to Kearney, is to convince “all sections in our society” of the desirability of creating “an inclusive, pluralist united Ireland.”[2]

Throughout 2012, Kearney returned time and again to this theme of reconciliation through uncomfortable conversations: it featured prominently in his Easter Commemoration speech in April, his address to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in May, his comments on the meeting between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth in June, and his speech at Sinn Féin’s reconciliation event at Westminster in October.[3]

Since March 2012, An Phoblacht has been regularly featuring articles in its Uncomfortable Conversations series. Some of those articles appear in Kearney’s recently-published collection that Richard English reviewed. The entire set of contributions can be found at http://www.anphoblacht.com/uncomfortable-conversations.

Uncomfortable conversations across community divisions are, on the face of it, a worthwhile idea.[4] There are, however, sound reasons to be deeply skeptical of Kearney’s tying of Uncomfortable Conversations to the objective of Irish reunification. Irish unity will not emerge from these Conversations; nor can these Conversations be considered part of a larger coherent plan to realize the transition to a united Ireland. Sinn Féin has not developed any such plan.[5] But that is another story, for another time perhaps.

Here, I wish to focus on Richard English’s contribution to Uncomfortable Conversations. To the extent that English’s view is indicative of the position of political unionism, it gives us insight into a principal reason why intercommunal conversations often prove unproductive and why northern politics is so prone to the cycle of stalemate-impasse-crisis-muddle.

Hierarchy and Asymmetry

n his two reviews of Kearney’s book Uncomfortable Conversations, English is addressing two different constituencies. The Irish Times article is aimed primarily at unionists; the An Phoblacht article primarily at that publication’s nationalist and republican readership. 

In the Irish Times, but not in An Phoblacht, English says: “uncomfortable conversations will involve unexpected futures for us all, and the way that we adjust to changed times will determine how well or how badly Irish—and certainly Northern Irish—politics develops in this century.” Consider the two “unexpected futures” he poses for unionists and nationalists, respectively. “For unionists, there is the challenge of facing the real prospect that Scotland will, in name and/or in practice, leave the union.” “Similarly,” for republicans, the challenge is “if meaningful conversations still leave a united and independent Ireland unattainable.”[6]

There is such a yawning disproportion in these two challenges that I wondered how someone like English, who is so well acquainted with the history and contemporary politics of the north, could present them as parallel. There is nothing remotely equivalent, even similar, in unionist anxiety about Scottish attempts to leave the union and nationalist/republican ‘anxiety’ about abandoning the aim of Irish unity. The objective of Irish unity is a foundational, defining element of Irish nationalism and republicanism; concern with the constitutional status of Scotland plays nowhere near as central or fundamental a role in northern unionism.

I am not denying the “deep historical attachment” of many northern unionists to Scotland, to use English’s phrase. Nor am I minimizing the real insecurity unionists feel about Scotland’s increasingly tenuous place in the union. But I am fundamentally questioning English’s proposition that there is a parallel or equivalency between these unionist fears and the discomfort nationalists/republicans would experience in giving up the aim of Irish unity. English is, in effect, tilting the conversation to the advantage of unionism: a core principle of nationalism/republicanism is up for discussion, but the real equivalent principle for unionism—British sovereignty in the north—is not.

How could English not recognize the highly skewed nature of what he proposes? It seems to me that the disproportion he brings to Uncomfortable Conversations is consistent with the glaring imbalances or asymmetries that are embedded in much of his scholarly work. Few academics have been as explicit as English in constructing a social and political hierarchy that leaves nationalism and republicanism subordinate to unionism. From this perspective, what English proposes is not disproportionate at all; rather, it aligns precisely with the way he believes that politics in the north should operate.

It would be unfair to reduce the depth, breadth, complexity and subtlety of English’s work to the theme of asymmetry. English himself has not been entirely consistent in the degree to which asymmetry is central to his thought.[7] But this theme does permeate much of his work, especially on contemporary northern politics; and it certainly makes an appearance in his comments on Uncomfortable Conversations in the Irish Times.

It would also be unfair not to mention the laudable points that English makes in his contributions to Uncomfortable Conversations. He says that he recognizes the need for dialogue and debate, for listening genuinely to each other, for thinking seriously about how the actions of one’s own community affected others, and for displaying empathy and respect. It’s unfortunate that these sentiments are attenuated or contradicted by the asymmetries he brings to the conversation.

In the mid-1990s, English was part of a group of ‘new unionist’ writers who intervened in the emerging debate on the future of the north.[8] The theme of asymmetry infuses English’s ‘new unionist’ work. He directly and forcefully rejects the notion that unionism and nationalism in the north “must be addressed in terms of their supposed symmetry.”[9] According to English, it is asymmetry not symmetry that better represents the relation between the two “traditions”. Irish nationalism is a form of romantic patriotism that is parochial, ethnic, exclusive and irrational; unionism is a superior political argument that is cosmopolitan, civic, inclusive and reasonable.

This asymmetry, in turn, means that there can be no parity of cultural or political esteem between nationalism and unionism. English stridently opposes what he calls “the equal legitimacy thesis,” or “the notion of publicly and loudly according equal legitimacy and respect to the differing traditions in question.”[10] The proper relation of unionism to nationalism—and one the British state should support—is not equality but hierarchy, with unionism ranked above nationalism. In other words, the nationalist/republican objective of Irish unity is manifestly less legitimate than is the unionist desire of maintaining British sovereignty in the north.[11]

English argues further that the inherent superiority of unionism and the political necessity of accommodating it have clear constitutional implications: British rule in the north is permanent and unassailable, and Dublin’s northern role must be minimized. To stabilize this constitutional arrangement requires, for English, that nationalism completely redefine itself by accepting partition and jettisoning even the aspiration to Irish unity.[12] In Robert Perry’s view, the logical consequence of English’s argument “is for nationalists to simply quit the field, even those Irish nationalists who argue for Irish unification via unionist consent.”[13]

English’s embrace of asymmetry and associated rejection of equality also have scholarly consequences, which are to be put to political purpose. He explicitly rejects an Irish historiography based on Kerby Miller’s call for a balanced appraisal that grants equal validity to the different traditions of all parties.[14] Instead, English argues in favour of a pro-unionist scholarship that will facilitate a fundamental remaking of Irish nationalism, even outlining unionist-sensitive research projects that could help induce Irish nationalism and nationalists to change in ways beneficial to unionism.[15]

English’s asymmetries seem guided by two essential and related principles. First, relieving unionist fears and anxieties is the major, if not sole, criterion by which to judge political developments relating to the two major traditions in the north. Political initiatives are deemed desirable to the extent that they relieve unionist fears and undesirable to the extent that they do not.[16]

The second principle is a real reluctance to deal with nationalists as nationalists or engage republicans as republicans.[17] English fully understands that almost any kind of political demand made by nationalists or republicans will evoke unionist anxiety. To address such anxiety, as the first principle necessitates, means that these groups must cease making political demands as nationalists or republicans.

English, it seems, is most comfortable with ‘nationalists’ and ‘republicans’ who have discarded the political essence of their nationalism or republicanism. The immediate task facing northern (and southern) nationalists/republicans, then, is to construct a new, politically-innocuous identity, a kind of “non-political Irishness,”[18] that must never threaten or even contest the central political positions of unionism.

Equality and Parity

For many reasons, the discourse of equality and parity is contested and problematic in the north, just as it is in numerous other places. But it’s an especially vexed question in the north, partly because of its close association with the peace process.[19] Acceptance or rejection of the language of equality and parity can be tied to support for, or opposition to, the Good Friday Agreement.

For pro-Agreement republicans, that language represents an important part of the ‘new dispensation’ ushered in by the GFA, which has provided not only a share in regional power but “a peaceful path to Irish unity and independence”.[20]

For anti-Agreement republicans, it is associated with the defeat of republicanism as signified by the peace process and the provisions of the GFA. For them, the terms equality and parity are seen as part of the fundamental transformation that saw Sinn Féin become “New Sinn Féin,” with the ‘new’ party accepting partition, the northern veto and an internal settlement.[21]

For others, the language of equality and parity represents the way that Sinn Féin has managed the tensions between its universalistic and particularistic tendencies. It indicates Sinn Féin’s rightward shift on social and economic questions and its move towards a cultural understanding of politics as communal advocacy.[22]

The troubled discourse of equality and parity, most specifically the unionist reluctance to accept the political implications of that discourse, also represents the persistence of relations of superiority and subordination that underlies the recurring disturbances that have come to define Stormont politics. Regardless of what the GFA says about parity of esteem, many unionists, and apparently some of their academic supporters, have not accepted Irish unity as a fully legitimate political position.

Given the asymmetries of Richard English, it is not difficult to understand why he is so eager to place the question of the unattainability of Irish unity on the agenda of Sinn Féin’s Uncomfortable Conversations initiative. Nor is it difficult to understand why he could see an equivalency between the unionist concern for Scottish exit and the nationalist concern for Irish unity.

In both his reviews of Kearney’s book, but especially in the Irish Times piece, English invites political unionism to engage in Sinn Féin’s Uncomfortable Conversations initiative. The nature of his appeal to unionists in the Irish Times can be succinctly summarized: the armed struggle is over, the northern veto accepted, and now it’s time to get nationalists and republicans finally to give up altogether their quest for Irish unity.

If political unionism engages on English’s terms, Uncomfortable Conversations will fail in its stated attempt to begin the process of healing by increasing respect, trust and understanding. And any other cross-communal conversations based on English’s premise will prove equally fruitless.

[1]Richard English, “Breaking Through the North’s Dialogue of the Deaf,” Irish Times, 11 July 2015, available online at http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/breaking-through-the-north-s-dialogue-of-the-deaf-1.2280948; and his “Next Steps in an Important Debate: Uncomfortable Conversations,” An Phoblacht, August 2015, p. 22.

[2] Declan Kearney, “Uncomfortable Conversations are Key to Reconciliation,” An Phoblacht, March 2012, p. 6. Sinn Féin interest in unionist outreach and reconciliation predates Kearney’s 2012 initiative: it was long part of the party’s involvement in the peace process. See Kevin Bean, “Defining Republicanism: Shifting Discourses of New Nationalism and Post-republicanism,” in Marianne Elliot ed., The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland 2d ed. (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002): 133-146.

[3] See Declan Kearney, “Moving the Peace Process into new phases,” An Phoblacht News, 10 April 2012, available online at http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/21772; Sinn Féin, “Declan Kearney – Reconciliation Speech – Ard Fheis 2012,” 25 May 2012, available online at http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/23467; Declan Kearney, “Leadership and Vision Remain Essential,” An Phoblacht, August 2012, p. 6; and Sinn Féin, “National Reconciliation in Ireland—The Need for Uncomfortable Conversations,” 24 October 2012, available online at http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/24818

[4] Although there is no reason to expect that the outcome of intercommunal dialogue will necessarily, or even probably, be respect, trust, understanding and healing.

[5] Kevin Bean has characterized Sinn Féin’s transition-to-Irish-unity strategy as a combination of utopian dreaming and “wishful thinking.” See his The New Politics of Sinn Féin (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), p. 257. Similarly, Brian Feeney is not convinced of the authenticity of Sinn Féin’s reconciliation initiative: “No one in the party is articulating how to advance their fundamental aim, Irish unity. Instead there is monthly waffle about reconciliation and ‘uncomfortable conversations'”. See his “Sinn Féin has lost direction in the north,” Irish News, 29 July 2015; available online at http://www.irishnews.com/opinion/columnists/2015/07/29/news/sinn-fein-has-lost-direction-in-the-north-204837/

[6] Irish Times, 11 July 2015.

[7] A number of reviews of English’s books have pointed out inconsistencies in his approach. Brendan O’Leary, in his mostly favourable review of English’s book Armed Struggle: A History of the IRA (2003), notes that English’s “intelligence disciplines his own [unionist] politics” to produce a “well-written, thoughtful and controlled history of the organisation” (n.p.). O’Leary’s praise evaporates, however, in his review of English’s book Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland (2006). O’Leary notes that English’s book is “far from a detached account” and has a “’revisionist’ bias” (p. 160). He suggests that English is “not impartial” (p. 170), even though “the author presents himself as an objective a-nationalist rather than an anti-nationalist, let alone a British nationalist, that is, a unionist” (p. 161). The result, says O’Leary, is a book rife with “linguistic, methodological, and ideological” “blind spots” (p.155). See O’Leary’s review of Armed Struggle, “Lethal Mix of Armalite and the Ballot Box,” Times Higher Education Supplement, 3 October 2003; available online at https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/lethal-mix-of-armalite-and-the-ballot-box/180201.article; and his review of Irish Freedom, “Cuttlefish, Cholesterol and Saoirse,” Field Day Review 3 (2007): 155-171. Brian Hanley also reviewed English’s Armed Struggle and remarks that it “is a book written with great balance and empathy.” He compared it unfavourably to English’s earlier work “which was at times excessively judgemental about republicanism” (p. 352). See Hanley’s review of Armed Struggle in Irish Historical Studies 34:135 (May 2005): 351-353. For a discussion of how English’s work on the IRA is seen as varying from “overly empathetic” to “less sympathetic” (p. 349), see Robert Perry, “Revising Irish History: The Northern Ireland Conflict and the War of Ideas,” Journal of European Studies 40:4 (2010): 329-354. This article includes comments from English about his differing approach to the IRA. Let me give a final example of the varying degree to which the theme of what I call asymmetry or imbalance pervades English’s work. In an article examining the role of professional historians, English argues that “historians should pursue balance rather than tolerating undue bias” by constructing “an historical account less comforting to any one side in Ulster's late-twentieth-century war” (p. 25). See his “Coming to Terms with the Past: Northern Ireland,” History Today 54:7 (July 2004): 24-26. This call for balance and understanding rather than judgement is in stark contrast to the explicit imbalance in English’s own mid-1990s work that judges the differential legitimacy of unionism and nationalism. Imbalance is also a main characteristic of English’s 2006 book Irish Freedom, as O’Leary notes (see endnote 7). In some of his work, English combines a rhetorical commitment to balance with an exceedingly harsh and judgemental approach to revolutionary republicanism and Irish nationalism: see his Ernie O’Malley: IRA Intellectual (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). English’s mid-1990s work, and its reappearance in his contribution to Uncomfortable Conversations, is examined further in the text.

[8] Liam O’Dowd uses the term ‘new unionism’ in his “’New Unionism’, British Nationalism and the Prospects for a Negotiated Settlement in Northern Ireland,” in David Miller, ed., Rethinking Northern Ireland: Culture, Ideology and Colonialism (London and New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998): 70-93; and his “Constituting Division, Impeding Agreement: The Neglected Role of British Nationalism in Northern Ireland,” in James Anderson and James Goodman, eds., Dis/Agreeing Ireland: Contexts, Obstacles, Hopes (London: Pluto Press, 1998): 108-125. For a ‘new unionist’ analysis, see John Wilson Foster, ed., The Idea of the Union: Statements and Critiques in Support of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Vancouver: Belcouver Press, 1995).

[9] Richard English, “Unionism and Nationalism: The Notion of Symmetry,” in J.W. Foster, ed., The Idea of the Union, 135. See also Stephen Howe’s comments on English, “The Politics of Historical ‘Revisionism’: Comparing Ireland and Israel/Palestine” Past and Present no. 168 (August 2000): 247. For a different perspective on symmetry and asymmetry, see Liam O’Dowd, “Symmetrical Solutions, Asymmetrical Realities: Beyond the Politics of Paralysis?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 37:9 (September 2014): 806-814.

[10] Richard English, “’Cultural Traditions’ and Political Ambiguity,” Irish Review 15:1 (1994): 98.   

[11] It is with good reason that Liam O’Dowd referred to English as “one of the most consistent opponents of 'parity of esteem' between the two communities in Northern Ireland” who “has been to the forefront in developing academic arguments against” various notions of parity. The quotations are from O’Dowd, “Constituting Division,” 121 and “’New Unionism’,” 85, respectively.

[12] In “Unionism and Nationalism,” English says: “it might be argued that revisionist nationalism has not gone nearly far enough. Instead of holding to the same irredentist aims but altering the means [from violent to peaceful], it might be more honest and more politically mature to accept that the united Ireland objective itself is simply not a valid one at all, given the religious, economic, cultural, and political divisions which exist on the island of Ireland ” (p. 138). See also Richard English, “The Same People with Different Relatives? Modern Scholarship, Unionists and the Irish Nation,” in Richard English and Graham Walker, eds., Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture, (Houndmills, Basingtoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1996): 220-235.

[13] Robert Perry, Revisionist Scholarship and Modern Irish Politics (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013): 106.

[14] Kerby A. Miller, “Revising Revisionism: Comments and Reflections,” in Dermot Keogh and Michael H. Haltzel, eds., Northern Ireland and the Politics of Reconciliation (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Cambridge University Press, 1993): 52-61.

[15] English, “Same People,” 229-230, 232. This call for one-sided scholarship is sharply inconsistent with his position that historians should pursue balance in their writings. See the discussion in endnote 7.

[16] O’Dowd in “’New Unionism’” notes that English “advocates diminishing loyalist fears and republican hopes that the status quo can be changed” (p. 85).

[17] In “Constituting Division,” O’Dowd argues that new unionists’ sense of superiority over nationalists “obviates the need for genuine political dialogue, negotiations or compromise with Irish nationalists, qua nationalists” (p. 118).

[18] Dennis Kennedy, “The Realism of the Union” in J.W. Foster, ed., The Idea of the Union, 35-36. See also O’Dowd, “’New Unionism’,” 86.

[19] Christopher McCrudden, “Equality and the Good Friday Agreement,” in Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd, eds., After the Good Friday Agreement: Analysing Political Change in Northern Ireland (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1999): 96-121.

[20] See Martin McGuinness’s 2010 Easter Commemoration speech: Sinn Féin, “Martin McGuinness MP MLA – Easter 2010 – Carrickmore,” 4 April 2010, available online at http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/18403

[21] Bean, “Defining Republicanism,” 139-145. For a classic statement of what the GFA represents for republicans opposed to its terms, see Anthony McIntyre, Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism (New York: Ausubo Press, 2008).

[22] Mark McGovern, “Irish Republicanism and the Potential Pitfalls of Pluralism,” Capital & Class no. 71 (Summer 2000): 133-61; his “’The Old Days are Over’: Irish Republicanism, the Peace Process and the Discourse of Equality,” Terrorism and Political Violence 16:3 (Autumn 2004): 622-645; and Kevin Bean and Mark Hayes, “Sinn Féin and the New Republicanism in Ireland: Electoral Progress, Political Stasis, and Ideological Failure,” Radical History Review no. 104 (Spring 2009): 126-142.


  1. Excellent piece. I've long given up on Richard English as any kind of neutral arbiter on these matters, following his outrageous commentary on Loughgall. The attempts of English and others to control the narrative and in turn sow confusion are plain to be seen. We can count Peter Taylor among their rank. In effect they are working to the agenda of British Intelligence, whether under direction or through manipulation unknownst. Beyond that, the idea the Irish people - regardless of what or where New Sinn Fein end up - will relinquish their cherished ideal of an All-Ireland Republic is a pipe-dream. Keep on dreaming Richard. One other comment I would add is that much of the agenda Mike has identified has plainly impacted on many, what we might term 'non-unionist', contributors on TPQ. Plainly the efforts of English have not been in vain. Regardless, I take my hat off to Mike for what is a timely piece. I hope it receives due attention.

  2. Sean,

    how many times has the hoary old MI5 line been trotted out to smear people republicans don't agree with or take umbrage at? It has been said by the Shinners about virtually everybody who didn't buy into the bollix. I have had it thrown at me. Deal with the argument Richard English makes, as Mike has done, rather than resorting to Shinnerisms.

  3. Anthony, I'm not casting aspersions on Richard but talking about the agenda he helps promote - wittingly or otherwise. Where did he get his information regards his slanderous attacks on the Loughgall Martyrs if not the lying trash of British Intelligence? That aside, what's your own thinking on the piece? Interestingly, and relevant here, we've been discussing elsewhere about the hypocrisy of Unionism regards the burning of emblems on bonfires. I feel this piece, and the psychology it references, helps explain it all. Myopic condemnations of the burning of the Union Jack tie directly into the agenda as mentioned by Mike. Thus Unionists see no inconsistency in the burning of the Tricolour on their bonfires and the burning of British emblems on ours. It all boils down to psychological conditioning

  4. I'd like to add this is one of the best pieces I've read on TPQ for quite some time, Mike has done his homework

  5. Sean,

    sounds like plausible deniability to me. There are many people today howling at SF for selling out yet they helped take the movement right over the finishing line in terms of delivering full blown British policing. The case could be made, using your own logic, that they were working to an MI5 agenda, knowingly or not. But is understanding really enhanced by leaving those sort of barbs in? Having a view of something at odds with our own does not mean people are working to some sinister agenda.

    Mike always writes good pieces but it is not one of those pieces that can just be read and a conclusion quickly arrived it. At over 3,000 words it requires a bit of digesting.

    It is a substantive piece for TPQ to have and we appreciate him taking the time to write it and submit it to us.

  6. Anthony, I'm in the middle of readying dinner here so will have to cut this short, for now at least. Two brief points. Your comments on policing et al are not overly of concern to me as I was nowhere near any of those goings on. But let's be clear, of course British Intelligence had an agenda which republicans helped promote - wittingly or not. That is a problem for them not me but I take your point, I wouldn't be in the business of judging those concerned. I'm not sure of your own feelings on this though given that you've made more mention of this lately than what I'd ever noticed before. Regardless, Richard English has attempted to denigrate a good man on the basis of information he was given by the Brits, for which I am totally sickened. Any Shinner 'apologist-turned-dissenter' who had engaged in the like of that would get the same short shrift. The other thing, and I'll have to be quick, is that I thought the piece, despite its length and while yes being a lot to digest, was pretty forthright all through and lends to an immediate analysis. Chat after

  7. Sean,

    as you weren't there when policing was being pushed over the line, the comment was not directed at you. The point I am making, is that you could just as easily direct your comment at those people but do not. I don't think it should be directed at either them or Richard unless you believe it to be true and try to support it with something.

    This is the first time I have mentioned people pushing policing over the line, that I am aware of and it is done to highlight the limitations of muttering MI5 every time we hear something we don't like.

    I don't know what Richard said about Loughall. And if I at one time knew having read Armed Struggle (if it is in that) I no longer recall. But people are allowed to have their views on Loughall just as we are allowed to have ours.

    It is very difficult to fully absorb a piece of that length when formatting it - there is so much else to concentrate on so, as you probably realise from doing it, so you end up reading it in separate chunks rather than as a whole: you get a lot of the points but not so much the whole. I will go back to it

  8. I tried to acknowledge that in my last comment Tony, mightn't have came out as I intended. When I said, 'I take your point, I wouldn't be in the business of judging those concerned' what I meant was that you're right, I shouldn't use it to judge Richard either. Regardless, what I do judge him on is his slandering of the men of Loughgall. His repeating of information, which could only have come from the intelligence community, I see as a deliberate attempt to besmirch not only the memory of those boys but indeed republicanism overall. Whether he repeated what is bogus information on trust or as a part player in an effort to discredit republicanism only he can answer. My thinking on it has long been that it was thrown in deliberately to sow confusion, get into the mind and plant a seed, and thus in turn to undermine the legacy of the East Tyrone Brigade. Peter Taylor was at the same craic previously using the very same tactic, speaking on the same case. Maybe it's just innocent journalism or maybe it's psy-ops. I certainly would be leaning towards the latter - even if Taylor or English were not aware they were being manipulated to further a wider agenda. Christ isn't that how it works? Agents and agents of interest and all that? You could be under the influence of an agent and not even know it, all while prosecuting their agenda in the belief you're advancing your own. For all we know Britain is sowing the seeds of doubt to psychologically condition future generations, in case they might rise to resist their presence in Ireland. We can rule nothing out when it comes to these people. Their thinking is more advanced than we often realise

  9. For all that I am still unaware of what either actually said about Loughall. The only thing I can think of is that they might have repeated the allegation that one of the boys was an agent? It will annoy us but hardly evidence of a grand MI5 agenda. It is more likely tabloid sensationalism. Oddly enough I asked Clive Fairweather about that allegation. He said he had never heard of it but that a dirty little man had a hand in it. Need to get that piece out this week. Meant to put it out last weekend but then the Kevin McGuigan shooting occurred.

  10. Mike and Sean still have extreme difficulty in letting go of the myths of Irish Republicanism. T'is a head-wrecking place to be, sure enough. Best to let go of it, if ye could. Though, if you're still inclined, the GFA makes allowance for ye to peacefully pursue that path. On with ye if ye must.

    Sure, Irish Republicans through the cultural revival movement laid the ground for 1916 and a partially successful heave against the 'old enemy' but they couldn't bring the Unionists with them. Therein still lies the problem. Adherence to the same type of thinking that caused the problem is unlikely to solve it, no matter how often ye regurgitate the old rhetoric or how ye dress it up.

    "Myths are politically vital to the process of nation-building, but there has to come a time when, to complete the process of national emancipation, their elisions and fabrications are recognised, and less flattering aspects of the story can be confronted. In place of a linear, teleological story of national liberation, there needs to be awareness of the complexity out of which an alternative story could have emerged."

    Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion (London: Allen Lane, 2005), p. 353.

  11. Yeah I wouldn't want to go into the ins-and-outs of the allegation but he presented it as fact. In terms of the article itself it was a great read and useful from an analytical point. Hopefully being well read. I have one on Maghaberry going up on ours in the morning which you'll hopefully make use of yourself. Out of interest where you at McKearney's debate with Dudley-Edwards by any chance? Just wondering how it went, i.e. who came out tops (I'd imagine Tommy wiped the floor with her)

  12. Outta here for the night anyway a chara, oiche mhaith

  13. What Burke's assessment has pointed out is that the political asymmetry between Unionism and Irish Nationalism/Republicanism is still being endorsed by English and Unionism with the now additional development, secured with continual reference to the GFA and the ‘peace process’, of the quite plausible Unionist demand for the complete dropping of the call for Irish Unity among Nationalist/Republican parties, both North and South, and in return they will be allowed to stand a little higher on the political ladder of parity of esteem – but with a clear emphasis and understanding on that they will never share the top rung with Unionism.
    Scotland, whether it goes or not, from the UK is really irrelevant to Unionism for both Unionism and Britain have secured their future here for generations to come.

    In other words, we are still playing the game established by Britain and refereed by Unionism.

  14. It is time Irish republicanism left the stage. The 'call for Irish Unity' is damaging the very cause it claims to champion. A 32 county republic is an impossible dream. Irish republicans have the right to keep the dream alive but if it is counter productive then why keep it? Any unity will be many years from now and will include an historic fudge on the lines of Eire Nua/commonwealth. Why have OIOV type calls and have men in masks and ill-fitting berets stomping around graveyards when it is damaging any form of progression towards unity? The wider population on this island are turned off by such displays of crude nationalism. It is clear Irish republicans have no idea how to advance their cause, there is disunity and frustration. Why can't they see what the rest of us can see, that Irish republicanism is part of the problem and not the solution.

  15. Niall

    The 'people' have accepted the game that's being played out, regardless of who established it and regardless of who referees it. You have every right to hold a counter-view but if you're a democrat you just have to grin and bear it in the short term and set about reversing that by democratic means if you're so inclined. Your right to that is recognised in the GFA.

    Yes there is an asymmetry going on; an asymmetry that reflects the democratic wishes of the people, insofar as that can be assessed. The most current measure of the wishes of the people are to be found in the referendums held in both states on May 22nd 1998. (If there is another relatively current and valid measurable as to the wishes of the people please elucidate).

    Once again for the slow learners here are the aggregated results of those referenda; total votes cast 2,499,078 ... invalid or blank votes 18,807 (0.75%) ... votes essentially in favour of the agreement ... 2,119,549 (84.75%) ... votes essentially against the agreement 360,727 (14.5%). Is there anything close to symmetry in those figures? Six out of seven (6/7) of the people on the island collectively supported the premise that there would be no change to the constitutional position of N.Ireland without the support of a majority of the citizens of that sate (and even those figures are an under-estimate of the support for that premise and is skewed by the fact the DUP advocated a 'No' vote).

    Less than one in seven (1/7) of the electorate would support imposing your version of Irish Republican wilfulness on Unionism.
    Its a big challenge ye have, not impossible to overcome but highly, highly improbable ... bit like banging your head against a brick wall if you ask me.
    Then of course Kathleen Ní Houlihan's thorny way was always attractive to those with a masochistic bent.

  16. Indeed Niall. When you look at it, the trying to 'outplay' them at their own game is where the whole thing got completely fucked up. It might seem like you're on the crest of a wave at the beginning, as victory follows victory (Kerr and the first batch of Councillors, Adams in West Belfast, McGuinness in Mid Ulster, Caoimhghín a month later in Monaghan, the inaugural Assembly elections, Doherty in West Tyrone, de Brún in '04, the break-through in the South last-time round), but the inevitable price is that, while winning the game within the game and seemingly leading throughout, the eventuality is that when the 90th minute comes, and the final whistle blows, it's who leads then that wins. How you played means fuck all when the points are being awarded. If you were to ask the strategists of New Sinn Fein about this they would say they're winning, it's going as they planned, we have them where we want them, just be patient, hold fast. But when you look at the bigger picture that's getting harder and harder to sustain. They will do well to even get a Border Poll never mind win one. In the meantime they are forced to shed more and more of whatever republicanism - and indeed diginity - that still attaches to both themselves and their project, in a futile effort to sustain 'momentum'. Their strategy is in a heap and we have the agenda we're talking about here now, this assymetry or whatever, coming in behind to make sure it's game, set and match, that even the aspiration to Unity will have to be spoken of in the backrooms, never front and centre. Again, and as Mike has helpfully pointed out in his piece, this is a deliberate, psychological ploy which sadly many Irishmen, in what we might reasonably describe as the league of defeated old men, have bought into this bonzi bullshit. We will see what the next generation thinks before we give up on what remains a legitimate political aspiration, which some on here it seems would prefer we put down to the 'silliness of youth' - or some other mindless psycho-babble spewed out in an incessant attempt to sound all-knowing, all-wise. Wise up. As I said yesterday, English et al have done their work well, the psychological conditioning they seek to impress imprinted deep within the minds of some. Then again, for all we know, they're pulling for the one team. It's easy to create a profile and come on sites like this to try and 'steer' the thinking of its contributors, to impress that unholy, radical thoughts, such as the notion a United Ireland might be achievable, are just silly-season stuff and for the unlearned. How stupid of us to think that things might one-day change, that such a possibility exists, aren't we the daft ones eh! If some of these guys were about in 1915 and had been able to impress their garbage on that generation there would most likely have been no Rising. Then again, judging by their analysis of even that great event, they would likely prefer it was so. How dare Pearse, Clarke, connolly et al take on the British, sure did they not know they could never win! Aye

  17. Sean,

    even though there is a touch of the rant in that, it would have made for a much better article than a comment


  18. Anthony, be it a rant or whatever it's simply my response to what Niall had said last night. We can see from Peter's comments that not only do the British, alongside their erstwhile tool in political unionism, want us to play their game, they want us to let them make the rules up as they go along. Maybe some are happy to go along with that, and sure that's up to themselves, but for those who see it otherwise well I say more power to your elbow

  19. Sean,
    Indeed Sean....I seem to have unwittingly triggered a republican revival there...or was that more to do with the likes of the comments by Henry Joy et al? He was actually right in some of the points he made but his argument actually backs mine up...playing Britain's game, by Her rules with Her referees.....good to see such strong passionate spirit alive in your comment though....

  20. Sean,

    I thought it a well argued response that would have been better suited as an article. Still think it was a bit of a rant though!!

  21. Come on now Mackers, surely you know by now that almost everything's a rant with me. Sure isn't that why we come here, to let it sail and not be judged. Always was the best environment for this sort of thing and even though many who were once the mainstay on here are not as active or have since departed - indeed we have Alec who we were discussing elsewhere this morning locked up in Roe House - it's still a great forum to say what you want (within reason) without a shower of clucking hens saying 'ooh isn't that unbecoming'. Up the Quill

  22. Sean,

    history tells us that the leaders were what some (only some mind you) might consider courageously and nobly intent on blood-sacrifice. In countering McNeil's orders they correctly anticipated the heavy-handedness of the British response. The executions rather than military acumen of the volunteers or the leadership were the genesis of what was to become the movement for independence. Even though I had family who stood in the GPO with Pearse and Connolly its unlikely that the man I am today would have made that choice.
    In my opinion, the Republican movement in their naiveness failed to develop realistic strategies for well-flagged Unionist opposition to their plans save those of an outright and total victory. O'Connell and O'Bradaigh's development of the Éire Nua policy document attempted to address Unionism in a more wholesome way ... but even this was essentially dependent on driving the Brits out first, and as such merely an enticement to Unionists for co-operation after their own 'defeat'.

    In the end of the day Sean our opinions are poles apart. That you hold a different view on all that is your prerogative ... a prerogative, might I add, that's now enshrined and protected in law. So what's there to get all tetchy and personal about?

    That you choose to hold on to what I now consider out-worn ideas and dogma is also an allowable choice. Though I must admit I consider that to be the essence of conservatism ... its far more radical, as far as I'm concerned, to challenge one's cultural conditioning and attempt a broader and more fulsome understanding of events.

  23. AM

    How does one reconcile a 'well argued response' with a 'bit of a rant though'? ^_^

  24. Sean it's on YouTube
    The Ruthie Farrah-Hockey- Cecil rhodes-Oswald Mosley- Dudley- Edwards debate.
    Sound quality is pretty poor though.
    So I quit watching it. And also self loathing paddies..too much thereof.


  25. Cheers Oz, I'll check that out. This is supposed to be worth a watch if you've time, got it sent to me earlier but still haven't had the chance to watch it as yet: http://youtu.be/SnbE3cuIxNI (don't know how to set it up as a direct link so you may copy and paste if you're interested - the politics of Sinn Fein by James O'Toole is the title)

  26. Sean, rant away: adds to the spice of the site.

    I think the hump your analysis does not get over is the Irish people have decided to accept partition until such times as a majority in the North determine otherwise. We have seen the mechanisms through which they do this. We predicted this would happen long in advance of the GFA. We did not like it but now we have it and it has us trapped. So what do we do? If we respect the wishes of the Irish people (what we are demanding of everybody else) then we can't go back to war because that would be disrespecting the wishes of the Irish people and would leave us open to the charge that we had a very instrumentalist take on the wishes of the Irish people - ok if they wish what we wish but to be ignored if they do not.

    And a One Ireland One Vote is unlikely to change that. A preference does not amount to a strategy nor does it amount to a strategic licence to behave whatever way we want. In what way could OIOV differ from a national opinion poll? It would carry no more weight and opinion polls don't change things. If they do say they favour a UI the governments can say "there they favour a UI" and that's it. The more important question is not whether the first preference if for a UI but how it is to be achieved. Republicanism has no answers.

  27. Sean,

    I also got an email from somebody yesterday who said that Richard English in his book Armed Struggle said 'possibly' and 'apparently', cited a reference and did not state it as firmly as you seem to suggest. But as you are reluctant to tell us what it was that annoyed you we are not able to engage it more directly. It is a bit like the cartoon that we are all supposed to be infuriated at but are not allowed to see.

  28. This is supposed to be worth a watch if you've time, got it sent to me earlier but still haven't had the chance to watch it as yet: http://youtu.be/SnbE3cuIxNI (don't know how to set it up as a direct link

    How to make a link

    Sean I listened to the first few mins (I might come back to your link) and I gave up ....Some head who wouldn't know if he was on The Falls Road, Shankill Road or other lecturing whoever about PSF and Marxism when PSF in the OC6 administer British Rule....Throw into the mix PSF are baciscally a pro European party...

  29. Frankie, thanks for that info on making a link, that's very useful. When I am uploading to our own site I have to copy the link, email it to myself. Copy the email and put it into a new email which then allows me to change the wording. This should save me a lot of hassle if I can figure it out (still pretty-much computer illiterate). As for the film I still haven't watched it so can't comment.

    Tony, you say republicans have no strategy for Irish Unity which is fair criticism. You're right, it's incumbent on them to develop one or at least to develop an analysis of how they can confront the state and state power to deliver on interim objectives. What we should add though is that 1998 does not offer a strategy for Unity either and thus is of no use to republicans. Yes we need a credible strategy but accepting the Good Friday Agreement does not need to form part of that. We acknowledge its existence of course but we are intent on resisting it where possible rather than accepting it as game, set and match. In terms of the allegation in Richard's book suffice to say we're all on the one page. Big if he or whoever us saying they covered themselves by saying it was merely a rumour or something they had eceugef second hand then it should not have appeared in the book. He slandered the good name of a good man and that's all that matters as far as I'm concerned. He's sitting in an ivory tower in some university passing comment on these things, displaying his knowledge. But what he might not realise is that this man's family and friends have to read that toxic garbage and as far as I'm concerned they've suffered enough as is without insensitive and sensationalist stories like this being spread about their loved one. People are real abc their suffering is real

  30. Sean,

    I think this does not grasp the point being made. Republicanism shows no sign of overcoming the problem posed to it by the GFA. But the problem predates the GFA, which in itself was an outworking of the problem as defined by the vast bulk of people who did not accept the republican analysis.

    It is fine to reject the GFA, fine from a democratic point of view, fine from a republican point of view - but nothing yet has emerged that can hint at a way around it. If you are in the field wit OIOV then it is incumbent upon you to explain how that is going to displace the GFA. I have heard nothing yet that suggests it can. And without that how does it differ from strategicless reiteration. Republican groups have strategies, just none that will work.

    The point on what Richard English has said, that is not such a terrible position for a unionist to take given that the ratio of penetration may have been I in 3. Even if that is not accurate it was fairly high. Why would a unionist have the same emotive attachment to republican war dead as we do?

    Family sensitivity is always an issue but it can not be a discussion strangler. We can talk about the British Army/RUC dead in terms that their families do not like. I regularly call the late Bill Mooney a police criminal and torturer. A Prison officer's daughter once wrote to me to complain that I had besmirched her father by my writing that he was a brutal thug for whom I felt nothing when the IFRA killed him.

    This site carried a piece by John Coulter once that accused Ronnie Bunting of being an informer. A load of old rubbish I thought but it is part of how people perceive things and needs aired.

    Start trying to protect families from things they don't like and every family will be used by someone trying to suffocate discussion.

  31. Anthony, I'll write something on the need for republicans to develop new strategies. As far as the Loughgall thing goes we'll say no more. Looking back on the conversation now it distracted from what Mike would have wanted us to talk about so that's regrettable. I'll try and make sure the piece doesn't descend into rant to keep ye happy lol. The criticisms you're making are the conversations republicans need to be having, how to deal with the issues they raise should be our focus and not harking after a war long-ended. The trouble I see is not many are listening but it is what it is

  32. I guess you'll resent my interruption Sean, but sure what else is new.

    But your closing comment suggests that you've at last got to the kernel of the challenge facing Irish Republicanism ... "The trouble I see is not many are listening ..."

    This logically begs many follow on questions ... Why are they not listening? What specifically is it that they don't want to listen to? What sort of messages might they listen to? ... and superficial answers just won't cut it. These questions have to be 'mined down' until you hit some firm bedrock.

    My hunch is that 'bedrock' will firstly and fore-mostly be about current needs. Most people don't see the relevance of the historical aspirational stuff any more. That's especially so with most CRN's, in that they recognise that GFA legitimises their aspiration for unity, that the Unionist veto may no longer be forever and a day ... and for now that's good enough. Like it or not, that how its seen and accepted across 'middle Ireland'.

    People fear being pulled back into the quagmire of the past, the arrest and release of the Shankill bomber will unsettle many in this regard. It yet again highlights the toxicity of the anti-agreement 'Republican' brand. (Yes, I know and understand that's a misrepresentation to associate current events with anti-agreement republicanism ... but there's a large cohort of the population that aren't able to make the distinction between different factions. They just don't want to know ... motivated by fear and caution they tar everything republican with the same brush ... anti-agreement republicans requiring several extra coats.)

    In the end of the day Sean the vast majority have decided to accept incremental shifts towards liberty, fraternity and equality. They are happy enough, and mature enough, to accept the imperfect solution arrived at. Sure a minority feel they've been shafted ... the rest are content enough to enjoy the freedom to go about their day without the constant threat of almost random violent events. For most that's the essential freedom. They are mature enough to forego their political reservations and preferences to enjoy the absence of horrendous violent acts like those that were visited on us for thirty years.

    In fairness when one weighs it all up, is it any wonder that not many are listening?